A piece of France in the jungle

Luang Prabang has got its charm. It is essentially a Laos town with a compact center built by French. Beautiful colonial architecture makes you forget that you are right in the middle of the jungle and not in a sleepy French town. Crispy baguettes and red wine complete the picture. Luang Prabang reminded a little bit of Georgetown, must the be colonial architecture, relaxed atmosphere and the fact that both cities are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Apart from the marvel of the architecture there was not much to do in Luang Prabang itself. The town center is easily navigated by foot in an hour. There is a temple on the top of the hill, but it is just another faceless temple-shtemple. Since this is Laos, there is an entrance fee too. There is Mekong and a village on the other side of the river inhabited by rather nice people. You can get a boat across the river or swim. I opted for the latter and it was good fun, although the current became a little bit too intense at some point and muddy water looked rather dodgy. Out of the town, there are two major sights: the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall and Pak Ou Caves. I gave the caves a miss, but the waterfall was easily one most beautiful one I have ever seen. I thought such waterfalls exist only in Hollywood movies and video games, but how wrong I was. The local countryside is supposedly beautiful as well, but I never got around exploring it.

One of the most interesting places in Luang Prabang is Utopia, a restaurant, a bar and a lounge with beach volleyball, gigantic jenga and decent music at times. Empty cluster bombs act as decorations. The place got burned down the day before my arrival. I could not see any damage, but according to the owner it used to be much larger. Strangely enough the place was open as if nothing had happened. The local nightlife is governed by the fact that curfew kicks in at 11PM and every bar and restaurant promptly closes. After that there are more or less three choices a) go to sleep b) go to a disco outside the town c) go bowling out of town as well. The disco came as the second most surreal club I have ever been in (the first spot takes a disco on Valaam island, home to a famous orthodox monastery). Tons of sound and lights equipment, but terrible quality of sound and crap music (surprisingly enough not your standard selection of Papa Americano radio hits). Oil barrels are used as tables too. I went on a Tuesday night and it was packed with mostly Asian people. The fun ends at 1AM though and after that the only choice is bowling, which is open all night long as long as there are customers. Laos does not make any sense.

Three days in Luang Prabang and I sort of liked it. Very quiet on the verge of being boring, but the charm and distinct character are there. And Kuang Si waterfall is easily one of the nature highlights for me so far.

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